Reality Check: Getting your house in order

Hey, about your personnel practices—can we talk?
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reality check

Chances are high your organization is about to lose a portion of its staff as youngsters head back to school. Nice work! You’re dispatching a pack of missionaries into the larger labor pool, each loaded with a convincing message about what a restaurant job is really like. The question is, what are they going to say?

Statistics suggest the portrayal is likely to be a damning one. Only about 1 in 4 restaurant employees (26%) would advise friends or family to eat in the restaurants where they worked, according to Gallup research. Just over a third (35%) are extremely proud of working where they do.

The deeper you plunge into the data, the worse any hourly job looks. The restaurant industry, as a leading provider of those positions, presumably bears a disproportionate blame. Only 12% of workers feel they were adequately onboarded, Gallup says. Only 20% say they were managed in a manner that motivated them to excel, and only 15% feel engaged. No wonder 51% of them are hunting for another job at any given time.

Here’s the real kicker: Workers who rate their exit from a job as a positive experience are nearly 3 times more likely than less-fortunate hourlies to talk up their employer, Gallup found.

Quick: How are school-bound departees likely to grade their exit from your payroll?

If the candid answer is dispiriting, you’re hardly alone. The Gallup factoids underscore the sad and often glossed-over truth that the restaurant industry needs to improve its performance as an employer if it hopes to someday instill the European mindset that foodservice is a legitimate and respectable career option for youngsters.

That means the laggards have to drop their foot-dragging and do the right thing. If you’re in that camp, get moving. Now.

The #MeToo movement forced the business to reckon with one of its worst personnel problems. But as the publicity about high-profile lapses has died down, so too has the pressure to keep changing the industry’s culture.

And there are plenty of other faults that need to be addressed. The youthfulness of the business, where standouts routinely run multimillion-dollar businesses before hitting age 30, is a neon sign blinking, “Industry of opportunity! Industry of opportunity!” But it’s also the reason management often lacks the moderating influences of experience and wisdom. Add in the pressures inherent to the business, and a top-down management structure that any army would admire, and you have all the ingredients for a troubled workplace. 

Sure, the perception often overshoots the true dysfunction. But there’s definitely work to be done. And it has to be done if the industry wants a chance at landing a decent share of a labor pool that’s shrinking faster than the Baltimore Orioles’ chances of winning a pennant (they’re 33 games out, for the benefit of baseball agnostics). The sad reality is that jobs, especially at the entry level, are going to increase far more quickly than the number of people who can fill them. If reality or reputation brands the industry as the last place anyone would want to work, the industry might as well collaborate on a huge going-out-of-business sale.

Training programs for the people who work in restaurants are in rich supply. We urge the trade’s leaders to consider establishing a standout program for helping operators to sharpen their skills as employers.

Maybe we need to go back to school, too.

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